By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
With President Obama now facing his own Hurricane Katrina moment in the Gulf of Mexico, Republicans are relieved that for once the White House can't blame the disaster on the usual suspect: Former President Bush.
For now, the Republicans are united in backing the oil cleanup in the Gulf, but they are also readying an assault on the administration's handling of the crisis which some compare to former Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina. "This is a disaster of epic proportions that the administration is not going to be able to blame George Bush for," said one GOP official.
Over the past few days, Republican leaders have been urging fellow lawmakers to ignore the urge to haul British Petroleum or administration officials to congressional hearings while the cleanup is going on. But in their comments, it is clear that the GOP is putting the administration on notice that they plan to dig deep into their handling of the crisis.
While the Coast Guard was dispatched quickly along with other administration officials, Republicans say the White House was slow to act and they want to know why. Sen. George LeMieux, a Florida Republican, is taking a lead on the issue for the GOP and said the top priority is to stop the spill. But he hinted broadly that the blame game will follow and be directed at the administration. "Right now is not the time to find fault with the administration for what they could have done or should have done," he said.
Fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski also hinted at making the administration the eventual focus of a congressional probe. Noting that her state of Alaska knows something about oil spills, she said that the top issue is stopping the leak and cleaning up the mess, "not blame." But she also noted that it took the White House several days to determine that the BP spill was a disaster that required more attention to fix.
Republicans also want to press the administration on oil rig inspections. Some today cited statements from administration officials that both the BP oil rig and the failed emergency shut-off valve were inspected and given a stamp of approval two weeks before the spill.